Skip to main content

Q&A: Weleda

The Managing Director of Weleda UK, Jayn Sterland tells us more about this natural beauty and health brand

You have a really interesting history - tell us a little bit about it

Weleda was founded in Switzerland in 1921 by the Austrian philosopher and natural scientist, Rudolf Steiner, together with a Dutch doctor Ita Wegman, and Oskar Schmiedel, a chemist and pharmacist from Germany. These three pioneers developed the first Weleda pharmaceutical products using a concept that has shaped Weleda's product philosophy to this day: medicine should provide crucial stimulus for the body's own healing powers.

Image: Weleda
History of Weleda

The company is still inspired by the philosophic ideology and values of Steiner today. As a company we have imbued these values through all our operations – in our biodynamic farming, fair treatment of staff and stakeholders, sustainable manufacturing processes and cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. We continue to develop in many countries through committed people who appreciate our ethos, and we are now the world’s leading manufacturer of holistic, natural, organic cosmetics and phyto-pharmaceuticals.

How did the brand Weleda develop?

It all began with a hospital and a pharmaceutical laboratory with its own medicinal plant garden. Weleda was first founded in Switzerland, with a sister business in Germany. Within a year Weleda’s range totalled 120 different products. 

By 1924, with developing worldwide demand for medicinal products and natural cosmetics, several Weleda subsidiaries were founded. The first was established in France in 1924, then in 1925 came the Netherlands followed by Great Britain, the following year Austria and Czechoslovakia and the USA followed in 1931.

Today Weleda has become the world’s leading manufacturer of holistic, natural, organic cosmetics and pharmaceuticals for anthroposophic therapy. Our motto ‘in harmony with nature and the human being’ is much more than a marketing strapline – it’s a genuine approach to business, which has applied since the founding of the company.

By 1992, Weleda was present in 30 countries with a huge range consisting of over 10,000 products. People were becoming increasingly environmentally aware and demand was growing for natural cosmetics, which led to revision of old product recipes and the creation of new ones.

Image: Weleda

Further international subsidiaries were also founded in the 1990s and 2000s: Weleda Chile in 1992, Weleda Peru in 1993, Weleda Japan in 1999, Weleda Slovakia in 2000 and Weleda Finland in 2004.

Today, Weleda is represented in over 50 countries on five continents, and has around 2,000 full-time employees around the world, of which 70% are women. 

How would you sum up your brand in two sentences? 

Weleda is the original green beauty pioneer that has led the way in natural cosmetics, inspiring and birthing other brands like Dr Hauschka and Neals Yard Remedies. We make life-enhancing products that help rebalance and show the body how to look after itself naturally.

If I had to use one word to describe Weleda it would be integrity.

What difficulties have you faced as an ethical brand?

We face regular challenges and difficulties. Ethical sourcing of our ingredients can take years to establish, as we don’t buy on the open market, and that means we can have shortages. Growing crops organically without chemical pesticides and sprays can be challenging, if the harvest is reduced because of disease and we have insufficient materials of the required quality.

The chamomile harvest was poor one year – not just ours, but everywhere – which was a huge challenge as it’s a key ingredient in our top selling cosmetic Weleda Skin Food. Our farming partnerships and suppliers in some countries are also sometimes tested by climatic effects, by political unrest, or infections killing bees. It’s tricky forecasting what we are likely to sell two years ahead - we can’t easily grow some ingredients if we need more suddenly. 

One of the biggest challenges we regularly face is how to differentiate ourselves from all the ‘nature inspired’ brands on the market, many of which have much lower standards. We spend a lot of time, and money, establishing our credentials, assuring quality processes, and certifying our products. Every single one of our cosmetics bears the NATRUE seal for example, and it does take a lot of commitment.

How do you differ from other organic brands?

Weleda remains privately owned by two non-profit foundations who guarantee our independence and for whom Weleda is not an investment that needs to generate a certain yield. This means we can put sustainability at the top of our agenda, before profit. We make all our own products ourselves, unlike many brands that work with contract manufacturers.

Image: Weleda

We test each ingredient, not just the finished product, for impurities and contaminants. We grow as many of our own ingredients as we possibly can, biodynamically, and we also establish and nurture long-term fair trade and organic farming partnerships that grow other ingredients for us, ensuring full traceability. Unusually for a cosmetics brand, we are members of UEBT (the Union for Ethical Bio Trade). Our entire range of natural and organic cosmetics is NATRUE certified, not just a proportion.

What big change would you like to see in the Cosmetics industry?

I’d like to see less greenwashing and more truth and authenticity, with brands being more honest about their motives, and acknowledging a responsibility to the consumer for the toxic chemicals put into many products.

Where can consumers find your products? 

Weleda is a multichannel brand. The range is available from independent health food stores and pharmacies nationwide, as well as many other high street retailers and multiples such as Holland & Barrett and Wholefoods Market, and from leading supermarkets including Waitrose, Boots and Sainsbury’s. The range is also available from general online grocery channels such as Ocado.

The full Weleda range of over 300 products is available from as well as from our national Weleda Wellbeing Advisor network.

Subscription Products

Become a subscriber today

Ethics made easy - comprehensive, simple to use, transparent and reliable ethical rankings. A wealth of data at your fingertips.

From only £29.95 for 12 months web access and the print magazine. Cancel via phone or email within 30 days for a full, no-questions-asked refund!

Start your subscription - find out more